VOLLEYBALL: Saline Advances to the Regional Championship Game

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WOODHAVEN - Peanut butter and jelly. Bagels and cream cheese. Laney Burns and Beth Ann Ford.

Some combinations were just meant to be.

Down 21-19 in set 4, and with Woodhaven charging hard to force a tiebreaking set, Burns, the setter, and Ford, the middle hitter, combined for three of the next six points as Saline won 25-22 to clinch their regional semifinal match and move on to the regional championship game.

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Burns and Ford, seniors, have been playing together since even before high school.

"We've been playing club for six or seven years," Burns said. "We have a really good connection. I know where she is (on the court)."

The pair enjoyed teasing each other a bit during a post-game interview Tuesday. Ford joked that she's not always sure where Burns is going with her sets.

"I can say I can read Laney's mind, but she's also a genius and I never know what to expect from her," Ford said.

Coach Darien Bandel said their chemistry is easy to see.

"They know each other better than they know themselves," Bandel said.

Burns, Ford and the Hornets were in great spirits after Tuesday's win.

Saline played some of its best volleyball in sets one and two. After falling behind 1-0 and then tying the set, the Hornets were never behind.

Up 10-9, Saline went on a 6-point run to pull away from Woodhaven. The run started with a block by Ford. Then Anna Hesse had back-to-back kills. Burns kept the run going with a tip and then an ace. Ford followed with another block.

The Hornets never looked back and won 25-20.

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Set two also started with Woodhaven scoring the first point. Saline replied with six straight points, which included two blocks and a kill by Catherine Flaharty.

Woodhaven climbed back into the contest, tying the game at 9.  Saline went on a three-point run that featured two kills by Hesse to regain control.

Throughout the first two sets, Ford, Addison Ashley, Flaharty, Hesse and Marie Laurio owned the play at the net.

Saline cruised to a 25-16 victory.

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With their season on the line, Woodhaven battled back with everything they had. They stormed to a 5-1 lead in the third set. Saline battled back to tie the set at 5. Every time the Hornets tied the set, Woodhaven found a way to lurch forward.

Saline was down 17-15 when the Hornets went on a five-point run that featured kills by Laurio and Ashley and strong serving by Cazzi Smith.  Saline had leads of 20-17 and then 21-19. Woodhaven closed the third set with six straight points to win and avoid the sweep.

The two teams came out swinging in the fourth set - with Saline looking to clinch and Woodhaven battling to set up a tiebreaker. Flaharty had two kills and Laurio had three as the teams started to a 6-6 tie. Ashley had a block and a kill as Saline took an 8-7 lead. After a tip by Burns and a killer by Hesse, Saline led 11-10. Woodhaven responded with a four-point run to take a 14-10 lead.

Backed by a boisterous home crowd, Woodhaven played to leads of 16-12, 18-16 and 21-19.

Suddenly, a match that the Hornets appeared to have under control seemed to be up for grabs.

The Hornets remained composed. Coach Bandel reminded the Hornets that it was Woodhaven with their backs to the wall.

"I told them that the pressure wasn't on us. We had the lead. We had the cushion. They're fighting for their lives and fighting for the season." Bandel said. "We don't play well with pressure. We've got to play free. We definitely turned it with some big kills by Beth Ann at the end. She's such a great leader and got us out of the jam."

Skyline lost a heartbreaking tiebreaker to Okemos in the other semifinal. Coach Bandel and the Hornets won't miss another rematch with their conference rival.

The Hornets are making their second straight trip to the regional championship. Saline hasn't won the regional since 2005.

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